Digital Marketing Coordinator
In this article
What’s the best way to monetize your content and maximize your earning potential? Learn the differences between affiliate marketing, sponsorships, and self-authored content, and what you need to consider before you set off on your journey as a content creator.
Nowadays, it seems virtually anyone can make money by producing online content. If it creates curiosity, promises value or compels your audience to take action, there’s a good chance you can monetize it. And between YouTube videos, product walkthroughs, social promotions, and more, the channels, platforms, formats, and topics that can be converted into revenue streams are endless.
However, there’s one particular monetizable channel of marketing that has stood the test of time for the last 20 years: affiliate marketing. It’s one of the most tried-and-true ways of generating income because of its high-paying opportunities. For brands, it has long been valued as a direct way to to win new customers, not just clicks or impressions.
But how does affiliate marketing stack up to more popular methods of monetization? Is it truly the best option for you as a content creator?
In this article, we will compare affiliate marketing against two other modes of content monetization: sponsorships and self-authored content:
- Affiliate marketing (aka performance marketing): earning commission for promoting a brand’s product or service and providing a specific result, such as delivering qualified leads, downloading an app, etc.
- Sponsorships: creating premium content (commonly identified as “Sponsored Content”) under the direction of brands, who pay content creators to promote their products to their audience.
- Self-authored content via e-commerce: creating products or services to sell online, such as digital courses, ebooks, branded merchandise, etc.
Each monetization method will be analyzed according to four different dimensions: earning potential, commitment requirements, editorial freedom, and barrier to entry.
Between these three methods, your earning potential can vary, especially when considering short-term and long-term viability.
Affiliate marketing: Unlimited, long-term
Because affiliates are paid on a cost per action (CPA) basis, earnings are not capped. Affiliates are remunerated based on their ability to drive specific results for brands, so the higher the volume of results, the larger the payout.
To amplify your affiliate opportunities, you don’t necessarily have to create new content, either. If you have high-traffic pages or posts that are relevant to the brand, affiliate links can be added to help drive additional conversions. If your content is evergreen (how-to guides, tutorials, etc.) these are also monetizable opportunities where you can earn income in perpetuity.
As an affiliate manager, I have seen our publisher partners do very well in creating content that compares the products of rival brands. And if both of those products have affiliate programs, your monetization opportunities are instantly doubled!
Sponsorships: Variable, short-term
With sponsorships, your income is based solely on the sponsorship deals that you broker with brands, which are typically on a limited contract basis. Your earning potential corresponds with your audience size and how engaged they are, which factors into the amount that brands are willing to pay you to create sponsored content. I’ll explain more about this in the “Barriers to Entry” section.
Self-authored content: Unlimited
Like sponsorships, the earning potential of the content you create is entirely driven by you. Because you are the author and developer, you’ll also have full control of your margins and ownership of strategy to maximize your profitability.
A big factor to consider when deciding how to monetize is your own bandwidth: how much time you can dedicate to your efforts? While some of the above methods can be ramped up quickly, others require large investments of time to develop content, build brand relationships, and potentially include capital investments.
Sponsorships & affiliate marketing: Moderate to Large
In both sponsorships and affiliate marketing, there are two large areas of commitment to consider if your goal is to earn income.
Firstly, the largest time commitment you’d initially invest is in attracting and building up an audience. Whether you’re looking to grow your average website monthly visitors, social media following or YouTube subscribers, building up an audience and winning their attention takes a high level of commitment. According to one content creator, it can take an average of 22 month to reach 1,000 YouTube subscribers.
Secondly, once you’ve grown a following, you must position yourself or your channel as a prime opportunity for brands to reach the audiences they’re targeting. Brands get bombarded with influencers pitches regularly, and you may find yourself knocking on many doors before getting your first response.
If you’re managing your own sponsorships or affiliate agreements, managing these contracts can take up a lot of time, as well. For sponsored content in particular, it’s not uncommon for contracts to outline a schedule of content for you to execute.
As such, some might prefer affiliate marketing for its flexibility, as you can publish on your own schedule. In particular, those that work with affiliate networks gain access to multiple brand opportunities that are ready to go – no knocking on doors required.
Self-authored content: Large
Because you author and sell your own original content, the largest commitment you’ll make in your early stage is research to determine your target market and the need to fulfill, and development of the product or service you’ll offer. Once this is complete, you’ll also need to put effort in planning and executing marketing strategies that drives sales.
Capital investment may be required: you may need to purchase assets, apps and or outsource services to produce your content. Marketing your product or service may involve paying for marketing technology tools, purchasing a website, digital ads or other paid opportunities to get you in front of the right audience. You may also have to cover expenses for e-commerce systems like Shopify or PayPal to accept online transactions from customers.
Affiliate marketing: Full
As an affiliate manager, publishers often tell me how much they appreciate that they can freely express their opinions about the products and services they review. Honesty and transparency is a hallmark of any reputable content creator, and as such, editorial freedom is very important because it is how trust is built between you and your audience.
If having complete editorial freedom is a non-negotiable for you, affiliate marketing is a good choice.
Less editorial freedom is granted to content creators that enter sponsorships deals because brands have a greater level of control over the message. Content creators are expected to cover specific talking points, including a list of things to say and what not to say.
As a content creator, you might be less inclined to accept certain sponsorships if you don’t agree with a product’s value propositions, especially if your audience will not think you are sincere in the content you produce on their behalf.
Self-authored content: Full
As the owner of your own brand products and services, you have full allowance to market and advertise without the limitations of content creators that represent third-party brands. If you plan on partnering with your own content creators, ensure that they follow the proper FTC guidelines for disclosure.
Barrier to Entry
Affiliate marketing & Self-authored content: Low
Because affiliates are responsible for producing their own content and get paid on a performance basis, the barrier to entry is relatively low. Those that work with an affiliate network also have the advantage of getting a quick “in” with brands by tapping into a network of readily available opportunities.
Moreover, payments and any business relations are handled by the network, allowing publishers to focus on creating high-performing content and less on managing the brand relationship.
If you’re a content creator authoring your own products, there are virtually no limits as to what you can produce. The greatest barrier will be in getting the attention of your target market, so be sure to determine your unique selling proposition that sets you apart from the competition.
Influencers that have millions of followers typically earn the most lucrative sponsorship opportunities with top-tier retail brands. However, there are still monetization opportunities for content creators that are microinfluencers: content creators that have less than 10,000 followers. Even with a modest following, sponsorship opportunities may be available if your audience is part of a niche or specific locale within a brand’s target market.
If you’re looking for sponsorship opportunities as a microinfluencer, seek out local brands who, like you, may have more conservative budgets. Like you, they may be in a stage of experimentation with their marketing, and working with a microinfluencer may be a good way to dip their toes in the water.
Are brands always willing to pay for sponsored content?
It’s not uncommon for some brands to offer to pay in free merchandise in lieu of cash. Depending on how you value your brand, you could counteroffer or accept it, especially if you’re just starting out. These types of opportunities might be worthwhile to initially build your sponsorship portfolio: when brands know that you’re experienced in sponsorship deals, it can elevate your attractiveness as a sponsor and your negotiating position in future opportunities. Ultimately, it will be up to you to decide if it’s worth your time and effort.
Which monetization route is right for you?
It depends entirely on you and what you assess your potential to be. To maximize your earning potential for content, your long-term goal may be to diversify across all three methods: If you have the resources, channels and audience, you could potentially create sponsored content, promote affiliate links and self-author content to sell online.
But if you’re just starting out, your best route is to choose one path to start and stay invested: nobody finds instant success right out of the gate, but persistence, patience and commitment is key to get you there. I hope this blog helps you decide the best option for your journey on monetizing content.